Syria’s al-Qaeda Affiliate Looks to Elections to Court Western Support

HTS was urged by al-Qaeda to avoid direct ties

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, controls much of Syria’s Idlib Province. The group is, realistically, Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate in everything but name, and keeps trying to present itself as a more palatable partner for the west.

This was al-Qaeda’s idea, originally. When the ceasefire in Idlib was being negotiated, HTS held a lot of the territory, and al-Qaeda was very public about the need for the Syrian faction to appear to be independent.

This was done with an eye toward getting them support in the war, and now the plan is to play government in Idlib. HTS is planning local elections, and making their morality police much less visible.

With the war slowing down, HTS wants to give the appearance of a valuable alternative to Assad. As al-Qaeda’s affiliate, only Turkey was really willing to accept that. As al-Qaeda’s affiliate with a lot of window-dressing, they may well have more interested parties.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.